The Rat Fan Club

Book Reviews:  Fiction

by Debbie “The Rat Lady”



Book Review: Rattie The Hawaiian Rat Finds a New Home

            This self-published book by Faith Fay is a charming tale of how Rattie was rescued from under a car and placed in a new home with Faith. A large format book measuring 8 ½ X 11 inches, almost every page has a large photograph of Rattie on her adventure, along with a few other pictures of some other animals, and Hawaii. The story is written mostly from Rattie’s point of view, and is fun to read. The layout of the pages is very creative and entertaining. This book would be a great addition to any rat lover’s library! It is available on


Book Review: Gregor the Overlander

            This book by Suzanne Collins (2003 Scholastic Press) is a fantasy story for middle-school kids, but I enjoyed it. The only bad thing is that, as in a lot of books, the giant rats are the evil enemies. However, one rat is enlightened and helps 11-year-old Gregor and his 2-year-old sister Boots, with their quest to rescue their father from an underground world where humans ride on giant bats and make friends with giant cockroaches. The story starts out a little slow, and then gets better and better, with hope at the end that in the future, things might work out better with the rats.


Book Review: Firmin

            This short novel written by Sam Savage was first published in 2006, but the edition I read was published in 2009 by Bantam Dell and included drawings by Fernando Krahn. It is written in a literary style, which I have never liked. To me books like this just seem to wander around and don’t go anywhere. I guess their purpose is to let the main character say whatever he wants to. It makes sense to me that Sam Savage has a degree in philosophy.

            This book is supposedly written by Firmin, a small strangely shaped, peculiar rat who can read, watches movies in a run-down theater, wishes he was Fred Astaire and lusts after human women. He is a morose character who considers himself ugly, dislikes other rats, and lives by himself above a bookstore. He is really not much like a rat, but seems to be only a character created to comment on human life. The story takes place in a run-down area of Boston shortly before the buildings are torn down to make room for new construction. (Scollay Square in Boston actually existed, and Sam Savage witnessed its destruction.) At one point Firmin ventures into a park, is injured and rescued by a nice but strange man who writes science fiction and repairs broken appliances to give to other people who live in the run-down neighborhood. Jerry gives Firmin a toy piano on which the rat likes to play Gershwin and Cole Porter songs. After Jerry dies of a stroke, Firmin goes back to living alone. At the end of his life, as his building is destroyed, Firmin hallucinates that Ginger Rogers visits him.

            There are a few statements in the book that are wrong in regards real rats. Firmin says he can’t laugh, but scientific studies show rats make ultrasonic chirps in the same circumstances that humans laugh, for instance, when playing and being tickled, which some scientists and all rat lovers believe is actual laughter. Firmin says the other rats tended to avoid the theater he liked because of a voracious population of fleas and lice. However, while fleas will bite both humans and rats, human lice won’t bite rats, and vice versa. Worst of all, Firmin tries to learn sign language to communicate with humans, but complains that sign language was intended “for creatures equipped with fingers” and he found it impossible because he has paws. Now come on, rats do have fingers! No thumbs, but definitely fingers. And how can Firmin play the piano but can’t manage sign language? Finally, this is probably nit-picking, but a drawing showing Jerry selling his books out of a wagon shows a wagon completely different to what Firmin carefully described in the story.

            Parts of this story are vulgar and border on obscenity, so this book is definitely not for children. If you like this kind of stream-of-conscious writing you might like this book, but you won’t learn much about rats in it.


Book Review: Little Rat Makes Music

This book was written by Monika Bang-Campbell, illustrated by Molly Bang, and published by Harcourt, Inc. in 2007. Although it is a children’s book, recommended for ages 6 to 9, it is delightful and will be enjoyed by rat lovers of all ages. I loved the illustrations. All the rats have pink noses, ears, tails, and hands and feet!  Although they act like humans, they are usually shown wearing only a minimum amount of clothing. In a few of the pictures, their feet look a little bit like chicken feet, and in one picture of the daddy rat it looks to me like he is wearing a skirt, when it’s supposed to be his belly, but other than that the drawings are totally enchanting. The story is also very charming. Little Rat comes from a musical family, and wants to learn how to play the violin. She is in a hurry to learn, but finds out that it takes a lot of practice and hard work to meet her goal. It is well written and in one place makes me laugh out loud every time I read it. I recommend this wonderful book to all rat lovers!


Book Review: The Short and Incredibly Happy Life of Riley

Written and illustrated by Colin Thompson and Amy Lissiat, this 28-page picture book was published in the United States by Kane/Miller Book Pubishers, Inc. in 2007. It looks like a children’s book, and won an award for Picture Book of the Year by The Childrens’ Book Council of Australia, where it was first published in 2005, but it really is a satire meant for adults. When the publisher sent the book to me to review, they also included bumper stickers featuring the book’s slogan, “Release your inner Riley.” You may have heard the saying, “To live the live of Riley,” which means to live in luxury.

Riley is a wild rat (we learn this through the pictures, we are not told this directly in the story, although the back cover of the book says, “Rats live for quite a short time and for most of that time they are very, very happy….”) and all the rats have pink ears, tails, and hands and feet, but that’s because their whole body is pink too. So to me it looked like a whole family of hairless rats living in the wild, which of course is not very likely. In most of the pictures they are very cute. However, their noses are black, and their muzzles are smeared with red, which made it look to me like they were dipped in blood. The picture where Riley is eating a slug is rather ugly, not because of the slug, but because they gave him the mouth and teeth of a shrew, not a rat. 

Riley is happy about everything in his life and the story contrasts Riley’s happiness with how most people are dissatisfied with everything in their life and always looking for something better or different. The style of the illustrations are unique. I found a picture of a human baby stuffing his mouth with a huge cheeseburger disgusting, but I’m sure that was their intention.

The creators of the book may have made Riley a rat because rats are so similar to humans, yet they seem so simple. However, it seems to me that only the very stupidest rat would be completely satisfied with his life, no matter what it is like. Don’t your rats always want something more and something better? Most of my rats would rather have avocado than broccoli, and they always want more time out of their cage to play. However, the main point of the book is of course correct: that everyone would be a lot happier if they were more satisfied with what they already have. This book is really not meant for rat lovers, but most of the drawings of the rats are endearing…especially the one showing a huge pile of sleeping pink babies.


Book Review: Walter, The Story of a Rat

Walter, The Story of a Rat was written by Barbara Wersba and illustrated by Donna Diamond. It has 60 pages and was published by Front Street in 2005. It is quite an amazing book. And Walter is a remarkable rat.

The first sentence of the book tells us that Walter was a very old rat. In fact, he was much older than most rats and he is also unusual because he can read. He doesn’t know why either of these facts should be so. Walter has come to live in the home of Amanda Pomeroy, an older woman who writes children’s books. He starts reading the books in her library. He is very sad that most humans hate rats or are scared of them. When he discovers Miss Pomeroy’s books and begins to read them, he is shocked that all the characters in her books are mice. He also discovers that other children’s books often include mice, but not rats. “Why doesn’t anyone write about rats?” he wonders. 

Walter decides to leave a note for Miss Pomeroy on her desk, and to his surprise and delight, she writes him a note back. They begin a regular correspondence and gradually form a friendship. One day Walter gets up the courage to ask her why she writes about mice instead of rats. She tells Walter about some books that do include rats. First is “the story of ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin,’ in which all the rats, unfortunately, are led away to their doom.” Next is The Wind in the Willows, and the Harry Potter books. She says that Oscar Wilde mentions a rat in a fairy tale in his book The Devoted Friend. And finally she recommends The Boy, the Rat, and the Butterfly, by Beatrice Schenk De Regniers. All these books actually exist!

It’s obvious that both the author and illustrator are familiar with rats and some of their behaviors. Walter takes his name from a book he found in the dump by Sir Walter Scott. Walter felt that this author was obviously an important man because his books were bound in leather. “Walter ate most of the leather, but left the pages intact.” Once settled in Miss Pomeroy’s house, Walter did most of his reading at night by candlelight, “though he had an unfortunate tendency to nibble on the candles….”

However, there are two statements in the book that I disagree with. At one point the book says, “Rats are not good climbers,” because most rats are quite good at climbing. And Walter says that he had always been kind and considerate and can remember committing only one crime. “In a moment of hunger and confusion he had eaten two of his offspring, but he had been only eight months old at the time—a young, impetuous rat—and he had never done it again.” It is unlikely in the extreme that any rat would eat his own offspring because there are biological factors that prevent it. As the main theme of this book seems to be to present rats in a positive light, I can’t figure out why the author would have included this.

Most of the illustrations are fairly realistic and captivating, although Walter’s tail is often too long and thin. It also bothered me that Walter’s eyes were drawn light-colored (the illustrations are in black and white). In some pictures it makes it look like Walter has cataracts. Maybe the artist thought it would be easier to give Walter personality or a more human look that way.

Overlooking the few flaws, this is a very enjoyable book with a touching story. It would be a good addition to any rat lover’s library.


Book Review: Rats Incredible, An Illustrated Dictionary of Rats

            This humorous book was written and illustrated by Ryn Gargulinski, and published by WeiserBooks in 2006.  A note in the back of the book says the author/artist was at one time president of the Northeast Rat & Mouse Club’s New York chapter, so she is well qualified to write this book. Her style of cartoon illustration is not to my taste (she makes her rats very angular with pointed ears and big mouths) but there is no doubt that the rats she draws have their own charm. I like the drawing she did to illustrate the various anatomical features of the rat, however, there is an error in the description of their hands. It says “Pretty paws with 3 fingers and a thumb-like appendage.” Now, I hate it when rat hands are called paws, but more importantly, rats have 4 fingers on each hand, not 3.

            The introduction to the book, titled inaugu-rat-ion, consists of 5 jokes in the format of a myth with its supposedly corresponding reality.  Some of the realities are true, and try to convince people rats really do make good pets, and some are just silly. Here is one example:  “Myth: Rats have rabies.  Reality: Junkies have rabies.”

            In the rest of the book, pages 2 to 71, each pair of pages features a word containing the syllable “rat” and its definition, along with an illustration.  My favorite was “ado-rat-ion: extreme affection, like rats have for spaghetti sauce.” I also liked “i-rat-e: extreme anger shown when your rat bangs his empty water bottle you neglected to fill.” The viewpoint this book takes will certainly give rat lovers some chuckles. However, some of the humor is a little raw. The drawing to accompany “rat hole” shows a rat with a hole through his middle, and one of the jokes protests that rats don’t really eat small children…only dead small children.


Book Review: Rosie’s Birthday Rat

Published in 1996 by Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., this is a delightful book with scenes that will be familiar to any rat lover.  The author, Linda Glaser, is a rat lover, and currently had a rat named Sunny when she wrote the book. The illustrator, Nancy Poydar, must be a rat lover too since she has drawn Midnight, Rosie’s rat, a black blaze-faced Berkshire, with much accuracy and charm. The book has illustrations on each of its 47 pages.

The story begins when Rosie announces that the only gift she wants for her birthday is a rat. Rosie’s mother strongly objects, and presents all sorts of reasons why she doesn’t want a rat in the house. One of these reasons is that the family already has a cat. But Rosie successfully counters all her mother’s arguments, and gets her mother to agree.

They go to a snake store, where Rosie’s teacher got a rat, and in choosing a rat, Rosie helps convince the clerk that rats make good pets.  Midnight is settled in her new home, and Rosie’s mom agrees that Midnight is cute, but still objects to...that tail!

The next morning Rosie is faced with a tragedy. Midnight’s cage is open and the rat is in danger in from the cat, Max. In order to save Midnight, Rosie’s mom must overcome her squeamishness of rats. Can she do it?

The only thing that would have made this book better is if it had mentioned that it’s good to have more than one rat. While it’s perfectly reasonable that Rosie would ask for—and convince her mother to let her have—just one rat, Rosie said, “We had a rat in my kindergarten. We had a rat in my first grade.  Now we have a rat in my second grade.”  Rosie could have just as easily said, “We had two rats....”  But other than this point, I highly recommend this charming story.


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

            This classic mentions pet rats three times, although I wonder if they might actually be tame wild rats since they live in a hole in the attic. At the beginning of Chapter 3: “[The garret] was Jo’s favorite refuge; and here she loved to retire with half a dozen russets and a nice book, to enjoy the quiet and the society of a pet rat who lived near by and didn’t mind her a particle. As Meg appeared, Scrabble whisked into his hole.”

            At the beginning of Chapter 14: “For two or three hours the sun lay warmly in the high window, showing Jo seated on the old sofa, writing busily with her papers spread out upon a trunk before her, while Scrabble, the pet rat, promenaded the beams overhead, accompanied by his oldest son, a fine young fellow, who was evidently very proud of his whiskers.” Two paragraphs later: “Jo’s desk up here was on a tin kitchen which hung against the wall. In it she kept her papers and a few books, safely shut away from Scrabble, who, being likewise of a literary turn, was fond of making a circulating library of such books as were left in his way by eating the leaves.”

            Two thirds through Chapter 23, when Jo is heartbroken that Meg accepts John’s courting: “The little girls, however, considered it a most agreeable and interesting event, and Jo got little comfort from them; so she went up to her refuge in the garret, and confided her troubles to the rats.”

Here are some other books that have been recommended that I haven’t had a chance to review yet.


Rat Heaven by Jeanne Willis, Macmillan Children’s Books, paperback, 2006


Books that feature rats that might not be great for rat lovers.

Deltora Quest #3—City of the Rats by Emily Rodda, Scholastic, paperback


Rats by Pat Hutchins, illustrated by Laurence Hutchins, out of print

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